By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, January 1, 1999; Page A25
Well, behold this: The episode on the Berlin Wall features a riveting eyewitness account of an East German escapee dying in the no man's land at the Wall: "It was so heart-rending that in the middle of nowhere was a human dying and two groups were facing each other, too worried to act."
Two groups, American on one side, Soviet on the other, coldly letting this young man die. This is a perfect metaphor for the series' view of the Cold War: Those who erected the wall, then murdered the man as he sought freedom in the West share culpability with the Americans who dared not rescue him for fear of sparking an incident, perhaps a war.
Then, this summary, a perfect capsule of the moral symmetry practiced in Isaacs's show: "The Wall was the supreme symbol of the Cold War's cruelty and Europe's division." Rubbish. The Wall was the supreme symbol of Soviet cruelty in turning half a continent into a giant prison house and forcing half a century of division on a continent that longed to be whole and free, and became so only as the Soviet Union expired.
In fact, "Cold War" often goes beyond mere moral equivalence to cheap anti-Americanism. Take Episode 18, for example. "Backyard" is an unending catalogue of American perfidy in Latin America. It concludes thus: "1990. Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega asks the Nicaraguan people to vote him president. . . . Violetta Chamorro, Ortega's opponent, narrowly won a surprise victory. Washington spent nearly $10 million backing her campaign."
Abrupt break. Dramatic theme music. Cut to titles. End of story.
Very clever. Why, in the very first free election held by the Sandinistas, did the people throw them out? The clear implication: Because America bought Chamorro's victory. After all, just minutes earlier, we had been advised that "The American dollar, and the failures of the armed left, crushed Latin American revolutionary dreams."
These "revolutionary dreams," however, belonged not to the Nicaraguan people but to the European and American left, who imagined -- as "Cold War" portrays -- the anti-Sandinista contras as Yankee stooges. In fact, they represented an authentic, indigenous peasant resistance to a communist dictatorship that had hijacked the anti-Somoza revolution. This is why the left was shocked by the victory of the contras and their allies in the election. It refuted all the fashionable nonsense said about the contras, nonsense "Cold War" repeats as if it were 1986.
The viewer is led to believe that Washington bought the election. But the Sandinistas were in complete control of government media, had total access to the national treasury for their campaign and harassed the opposition with what one historian called "brownshirt tactics." Washington's help barely leveled the playing field.
Isaacs's revisionism extends not just to history but to his own show. He claims that in the egregious Episode 6 ("Reds") on the Red Scare, "we contrast McCarthyism, a spasm . . . with a system that sent millions to their deaths in the gulag."
Contrast? Spasm? Has he not seen his own show? It clearly presents the Red Scare here and the gulag there as two sides of the same coin: Cold War paranoia. It contains, for example, but one mention of children being urged to inform on the thought crimes of their own parents. Which side of the Cold War does the show so indict? The United States!
This is, of course, a grotesque turning of history on its head. It was the Soviet Union that made national heroes of children who informed on their parents. Knowledgeable adults will wince at these falsities. But CNN is offering this series as a teaching tool for schools. How are young people to know?
How are they to know, for example, that when a Soviet official says on camera that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan because they feared that Afghanistan's communist dictator would "turn to the Americans for help and they would put their own troops in," that this is risible KGB disinformation -- Jimmy Carter invading Afghanistan! -- turned into post-Cold War apologetics?
They will never know it watching this thoroughly tendentious production.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company